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Annual Rail Trends

This is the 30th edition of Rail Trends, the Railway Association of Canada’s (RAC) annual report on the performance of Canada’s railway industry. This publication contains a rolling 10-year review of financial and statistical results, reflecting multiple aspects of railway performance in Canada. This edition covers the 2012 to 2021 period.

Rail Trends 2022: Moving Canada Forward

In 2021, Canadian railways and railroaders demonstrated resilience in the face of multiple, concurrent challenges. The health and supply chain impacts of the global pandemic continued to impact operations, while several severe weather events linked to climate change tested disaster mitigation and emergency preparedness plans. All of these challenges were reminders of the interconnectedness of global supply chains and the need for ever-greater collaboration among all supply chain partners.

Evolving public health restrictions and the high number of teleworkers delayed meaningful recoveries in passenger rail ridership. Intercity, commuter, and tourism rail operators were tested. Yet through it all, railways kept trains running, got people (including essential workers) where they needed to go and provided valued services to Canadians.

Freight railways showed their mettle, working through devastating wildfires, unprecedented flooding in British Columbia and severe drought conditions in the Prairies. When these climate-related crises hit, railroaders mobilized to restore service quickly and keep goods moving.

Indeed, Canadian railways remained reliable links in integrated supply chains. Canadian freight railways transported half of our country’s exports in 2021, and a total of $350 billion worth of goods. Despite the challenges outlined above, Canada’s Class 1 railways managed to maintain an average terminal dwell time of just 7.6 hours.

The impacts of COVID-19 and global mismatches in production and consumer demand impacted international supply chains. The on-time performance of global ocean liners deteriorated, and delays increased significantly. This had an effect on major port operations around the world, including in Canada. Canadian port dwell times increased by 42% since 2019, to an average of 104 hours in 2021.

In 2021, prices for most goods and services increased, many significantly. Consumer prices increased at rates not seen in decades, industrial and commodity prices soared, and railway diesel fuel costs increased by 31%. Despite these inflationary pressures, railways were a source of stability, as they maintained competitive freight rates throughout 2021 – helping to drive the recovery of the Canadian economy. In fact, in 2021, Canadian rail freight rates remained lower than rates in the U.S. and were amongst the lowest in the world. RAC members’ top priority has always been safety, and their 2021 performance reflects this ongoing commitment to continuous improvement. Railways set another consecutive record in the safe transportation of dangerous goods – reducing the dangerous goods accident rate by 6.9% compared to 2020 (which itself was a previous low). Over the past decade, the number of accidents per 1,000 carloads of dangerous goods has been cut in half, from 0.30 to 0.15.

Overall in 2021,the total number of railway accidents was 2.6% below the 2016-2020 average.

In 2021, railways continued to play a key role in helping Canada progress towards its ambitious emissions reduction and decarbonization targets. Freight fuel efficiency improved by 1.2% to 704 revenue ton-miles per gallon – setting another consecutive record. Various initiatives contributed to this improvement, including investments in locomotive fleet modernization, fuel saving technologies, and low-carbon fuels. Improved operational practices, such as running longer and heavier trains and training employees to optimize fuel efficiency, also contributed to greater fuel efficiency. Overall, total rail industry fuel consumption was 2.8% below 2020 levels and 5.5% below the 2016-2020 average.

Improvements in supply chain performance, growth, safety, and fuel efficiency all have one thing in common: they’re driven by innovation. Canada’s railways are investing heavily in big data analytics, artificial intelligence, automation, and digital platforms to enhance service, support growth, and further improve safety. The expanded roll-out of innovative, automated inspection technologies is enabling railways to increase inspection frequency – leading to a safer and more reliable network. Lastly, locomotive fuel efficiency continues to improve thanks to innovations such as CN’s Horsepower Tonnage Analyzer and CP’s Trip Optimizer technology.

In 2021, railways invested $2.3 billion into their Canadian assets, bringing the total to $20.9 billion over the past 10 years. RAC members also contributed over $1.9 billion in various taxes to Canadian governments, bringing the total to $16.9 billion over the past decade.

Lastly, the rail industry’s workforce was strengthened in 2021. Employment increased by 3.0%, or 997 jobs, to 34,318 employees. And since every one job in the rail industry supports nearly five additional jobs, the industry supported a total of approximately 182,000 jobs in Canada.4 The average wage in the industry increased by 1.3%, to $102,160; and railways made progress on their commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion. From 2020 to 2021, the representation of women, persons with disabilities, visible minorities, and Indigenous peoples employed in the rail industry all increased.

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Jonathan Thibault

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